6 Challenges for the Dedicated Strength Athlete
Contributor - Psychology and Research
In your quest to be the “baddest mother*$%er on the planet,” see how many of the following challenges you can accomplish. They are not meant to be done tomorrow as some might take years to accomplish. But using these as long-term goals can be great for training motivation.
Not a Natural Athlete
I was not born a natural athlete. I am Clark Kent without superpowers. But I do have persistence and a passion for doing things I am not expected to do. That is why I like finding physical challenges. And if someone says I won’t be able to accomplish something, I like the challenge even more. I imagine many of you have that same opposition. Below are some challenges that are difficult but achievable.
25 Strict Pull Ups
I found this challenge while reading one of Pavel’s old Muscle Media articles. He discussed the importance of pull ups in the military PT tests. The top score of 25 pull ups became my goal. Even for the non-military, pull ups are also a great way to measure your body composition. If you gain muscle and lose fat (but maintain weight), you should be able to do more pull ups.
To accomplish this goal, I followed a program that Pavel did with his schoolmates. It consists of ladders of pull ups up to five reps with a partner. The partner goes and then you go (partner does one, you do one, partner does two, you do two). Once you finish the ladder up to five, you start over. This approach provides a built-in period of rest and allows you to get in a lot of reps rather quickly. I would suggest doing it every other day. If you don’t have a partner, then you can count out an imaginary partner’s reps.
"This approach provides a built-in period of rest and allows you to get in a lot of reps rather quickly."
There is also the fighter pull up program that is similar in frequency. The key with both of these programs is to never go to failure, but stay one rep shy of it. If you fail, you are teaching your body to fail.
If you don’t have strict pull ups, then ring rows or jumping negative pull ups are alternatives (do these enough, and soon you will have strict pull ups). To maintain the ability to do 25 repetitions, weighted pull ups are great.
Dunk a Basketball
This is a goal that is tough to generalize. Height definitely makes a difference. At 6’0” (182cm), this goal was within my genetic ability, but still a challenge. I can reach up to 7’5” (226cm), so I needed a vertical leap of at least 31” (79cm). Vertical leap is easy to measure and a great way to see your training progress. See where you are and pick a number of where you want to be.
When I was pursuing this goal, I focused on a lot of weighted step ups. This movement was recommended by a NBA strength and conditioning coach. The key is to keep the chest up as if you are being pulled upward by a string. As you get to the top, you will want to squeeze the glutes as if you are making an explosive jump.
Although it was not part of my original program, I would now also add overspeed eccentric kettlebell swings. They have a powerful effect on vertical leap.
One-Arm, One-Leg Push Up
This movement is one of the tests you must pass to earn the StrongFirst Bodyweight Certification (for ladies it is a one-arm pushup with both legs on the ground). Surprisingly, this movement has much less to do with upper body strength and more to do with core strength. If your body flops around like a fish out of water, then it will be difficult for your shoulder to push up. If your body is like a steel girder, it will be much easier to control.
"Surprisingly, this movement has much less to do with upper body strength and more to do with core strength."
Al Kavaldo and others have videos on how to progress with this movement. I found practicing tension in my core to be most helpful. I would recommend isometric L-sit or tuck holds (working up to thirty seconds). The StrongFirst/RKC plank and its variations are also helpful.
Kettlebell Instructor Aleks Salkin performing a one-arm, one-leg push up with excellent form.
Human Turkish Get Up
Turkish get ups are a great shoulder pre/rehabilitation method. As you build core strength and shoulder stability, it becomes easier to add more weight. It also feels good to use heavy weight in this movement. Some people have even used humans as weight, similar to old-time strongmen.
In the below video, you can see Fabio Zonin complete a human Turkish get up. Do not attempt this movement unless you already own it with heavier weight than the human in question. I recommend practicing first with heavy sandbags or a barbell, as a human’s weight distributes differently than a compact kettlebell.
Fabio Zonin completing a human Turkish get up.
L-Sit to Handstand
Dusty Hyland’s Virtuosity videos are great challenges. The L-sit to the handstand was interesting as it shows a graceful movement that takes both strength and coordination. I put it here as a challenge, but it might just be a great practical movement to build strength for everything else.
Beast Tamer / Iron Maiden
This challenge consists of three movements: a weighted pull up, a kettlebell strict press, and a weighted pistol. For men, a 48kg (106lb) kettlebell is used, and for women, a 24kg (54lb) kettlebell is used.
"When it comes to the actual challenge, though, the best way to train these movements is by doing them."
This challenge comes last in my list as the programming from all the other movements is needed for this movement. The L-sits to handstands help teach the tension needed for the strict press and for the pistol. The pistol (at least for me) is very much about keeping the body tight so that force can be applied. The kettlebell press is helped by heavy Turkish get ups, as well as bent presses.
When it comes to the actual challenge, though, the best way to train these movements is by doing them. I would choose a movement each day and do a greasing the groove style of program. Artemis Scantalides and Andrew Read also have excellent programs for achieving this goal.
Artemis Scantalides pressing a heavy kettlebell overhead.
Each of these challenges is meant to hit different domains of fitness. You must be strong, explosive, and have a high work capacity. Some of these challenges can take years to accomplish (I have not yet accomplished the Beast Tamer; I hope to this year). You may have to raise or lower the bar depending where you are in your fitness journey. If you have not done a strict pull up, then make that your goal (then five, ten, etc.).
Please comment and show videos of the challenges you have accomplished. If you have other challenges, let us know.
Check out these related articles:
- "Beast Tamer" by Andrew Read (Book Review)
- Greasing the Groove: How to Make It Work for You
- 3 Ways to Use the Kettlebell Swing for Overspeed Eccentric Training
- What's New on Breaking Muscle UK Today
Photos 1 & 2 courtesy of Shutterstock.
Photo 3 courtesy of Aleks Salkin.
Photo 4 courtesy of Artemis Scantalides